Mint, Dill, Cummin, and Hypocrisy:
A Sunday School Lesson on Matthew 23:23-28

I love to read and talk. Anyone who knows me knows I can barely keep quiet when I want to show off what I have most recently read. I especially enjoy holding forth on those odd passages in the Bible like today's passage.

Good grief! I think I've just admitted in public that I am frequently guilty of the sin of "Just Talking a Good Game," which is the sin discussed in Chapter 2 of James W. Moore's Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned But I Have Several Excellent Excuses. It's the chapter about which I am supposed to be leading a discussion. And you will get a chance to discuss, but first. . .I'll demonstrate how much I am addicted to this particular sin and how much actually I have convinced myself that I have a good excuse by taking a look at a few verses from today's New Testament reading. Here's an example of how much this sin has hold of me: it took me about three days to put together my translation/paraphrase of Matthew 23, and you should also be aware that Luke 11 reports almost exactly the same words of Jesus. (Isn't that a clear example of a guy who is tempted regularly to prefer words to deeds?)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you pride yourselves on tithing mint, dill, and cummin; but you have neglected far more important matters of our ancient religious laws. You have neglected justice, mercy, and sincere submission to the will of the Lord which are the things you should have been practicing without neglecting the other rules about minor matters like tithing. You people are too blind to lead anyone anywhere. You try to strain a gnat out of your drinking cup and then you swallow a dead camel floating in the wine.
Tithing mint, dill, and cummin? That's just one of the examples that Jesus uses to show the Pharisees that they were religious hypocrites. It's also one of those peculiar passages from scripture which sends me racing off to my research tools. What did people in the Roman-ruled Judea of the 1st Century A.D. do with stuff like mint, dill, and cummin?

Besides being used as flavorings for various foods, all three of the herbs mentioned in the passage are part of the herbal medicine of the 1st Century A.D. Mint, which was known as mentha by speakers of Latin and as menthol by speakers of Greek, was a plant grown in personal gardens because it was useful in treating such conditions as the itching from insect bites and exposure to virulent plants like poison ivy. A caution from a 21st Century website warns gardeners to be careful about planting any of the many varieties of mint because mint spreads so easily that your garden can be choked out by it. You may also remember that Vaseline used to have a product called Mentholated Vaseline. My wife Carol used to put that stuff on the itchy butt of Michael, our now 38-year-old son. Doctors call mint an anti-prurital substance, that is, mint is good to relieve itching!

Dill was used as a pain-reliever and was believed to promote healing of wounds.

Cumin was used the same way we use Alka-Seltzer. It helped dispel gas.

The three spices were so common and inexpensive that it approaches absurdity to tithe on the spices in your herb garden. Clearly Christ was mocking the Pharisees who followed such nit-picking rules. Imagine how silly it would seem if a preacher were to say you are obliged to tithe on the contents of your medicine cabinet.

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